March 12, 2019
An Exposition of Expectations
Mystery, drama and tragedy are all very common, hallmark themes of the typical gothic novels of old. Jane Austen, who completely understood the flow and tendencies of such stories, sought to expose these clichés in her novel, Northanger Abbey. She employs numerous themes of gothic stories, with the intention of mocking them, and their readers. She uses mystery in prelusion, enticing language, and conspiracy. The story’s protagonist, Catherine, is a representation of the genre’s fanbase. Austen’s novel is a blatantly satirical exposition of the romanticising gothic novel connoisseur’s of her day, because it tells a very real, and ultimately underwhelming story that only proves how one’s imagination can cause unrealistic expectations.
The very title of Northanger Abbey provides a huge clue, a part of Austen’s message. Before arriving at the estate, the stories central characters, Catherine and Henry, have an intense discussion concerning it, as it is his family’s estate, and they are the Tilney’s. Catherine has been invited to stay with them for a time. In their conversing, he tells her an utterly dramatic story of her first night in the Abbey. Throughout the book Catherine’s character is shown to be extremely naive, imaginative, and stupidly unaware. As Henry describes his family’s abode, he purposely tells her a narrative of enthralling and enticing description, which reeks of gothic imagery. Needless to say, she is immediately swayed, as her excitement builds in anticipation of perhaps getting her very own gothic adventure during her stay. In his talk, Henry asks her, “...are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” (Austen, 148). He goes on to continue describing the layout, using terms such as, “dimly lit,” and “unconquerable horror,” (148). To all of this she responds, “Oh! Mr. Tilney, how frightful! This is just like a book!” (149). She buys what he sells, because she wants to. Interestingly enough, Henry is simply teasing. Upon arriving at the Abbey, Catherine is rather unimpressed and disappointed in how very un-gothic the estate is, which goes to show that the romanticizing reader is first fooled with prelusion. The wordage that Henry utilizes is the key.
Diction is most definitely the very essence of classic gothic literature. It creates the atmosphere of darkness, despair, fear, and/or intrigue in such storytelling. Austen’s choice of words in Northanger Abbey is no exception, as one could already tell from Henry’s dialogue concerning the estate. But such language is used throughout the story, whether in conversation or narration. In the telling of Catherine’s actual first night in the Abbey, Austen goes above...